A kindhearted dad got an exact tattoo replica of his nine-year-old son’s burn scars to help him feel less self-conscious.
Joel Thomas, 32, got inked after his son Landon fell into a bonfire and suffered third-degree burns to his right leg.
The schoolboy was rushed to hospital where doctors treated the painful wounds and performed a skin graft.
But little Landon, then just eight-years-old, was traumatized by the ordeal and feared he would be bullied at school for the scars.
Cable TV company rep Joel says the body art has helped his son gain more confidence and now strangers on the street stare at him instead of Landon.
Caring dad-of-two Joel, from Festus, Missouri, USA, said: “Landon was very self-conscious about his scars.
“When he first had them he would wear long socks to cover them up.
“He didn’t want to show them off because he didn’t want the questions and was terrified of getting picked on.
“It broke my heart. Nobody wants to see their kid get hurt like that and just to see him go through that whole ordeal tore me apart.
“It’s a tragic accident that happened to him but it’s a happy ending for us because Landon loves the tattoo.
“Every once in a while he will put his leg next to mine and we compare them. It has brought us even closer together.”
Landon said: “My dad’s tattoos make me proud and help me know that I am not alone. No matter what – he has my back.”
The nightmare unfolded in May 2016, after Joel headed off to work a night shift and Landon was home with his dad’s fiancé, Melissa Kuhlmann, 27.
The family were toasting marshmallows on a bonfire when Landon tripped and fell straight into the flames.
He knew the stop, drop and roll maneuver – so dropped to the ground and began to peel off his clothes before Mel got him into the bathtub and under cold water.
She then dialed 911 and paramedics took Landon to Mercy Hospital in St. Louis, Missouri, where his dad rushed to meet him.
The following day Landon underwent a skin graft which saw surgeons transplant some skin from his hip to the burnt area, which covered his ankle and lower leg.
The youngster was discharged after a week but the wound took a few months to heal, according to Joel, and Landon is likely to be scarred for life.
Joel said he came up with the idea of having a tattoo to match the night before his son’s skin graft surgery.
Joel said: “We were talking about what would happen and the Smurf Movie had just come out so I joked that they were going to give him a blue leg.
“He started to freak out, so then I said they were going to give him a robot leg and he got scared they were going to cut it off.
“But then I told him he would have a skin graft and I told him, ‘Whatever yours looks like I will get the same thing. I will have the same scars.’
“He thought it was a magnificent idea. He loved it.”
Joel, who already had 13 tattoos, emailed American reality TV show Ink Masters and heard back saying they’d like him and Landon to appear as guests.
In February 2017, the pair flew to New York, where Joel asked an artist to give him the exact same reddish pink burn mark that his son has.
As part of the show, the tattoo artist – who was one of a group of contestants tasked with completing ink-related challenges – had three hours to finish the piece.
Joel, who has another son called Axeton, five, also had Landon’s initials tattooed on his foot, in his son’s color of choice and handwriting.
He said: “When we flew home the next day people were staring at my leg and I just walked through the airport with a smile.
“It gave me an idea of what Landon was going through but also a sense of pride.
“I want people to see it. It means they are looking at my leg instead of his.
“I am happy that I can walk around carrying the same scars as him. It means he doesn’t feel alone.”